FlixChatter Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Phase Four of the MCU started off with Black Widow, which ends up being of my favorites of the entire MCU. While that one is a long-overdue female representation, Shang-Chi is even more so in terms of Asian representation, both in front and behind the camera, so naturally there’s a lot riding on this film. I had been on vacation when the movie came out, so as soon as I came back, my hubby and I immediately booked tickets to see it at a local cinema. We managed to find a theater with an UltraScreen DLX and I’m so glad we did, the visuals is as stunning as one would expect from Marvel.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton didn’t waste much time to immerse us into the world of Shang-Chi, and having the legendary Hong Kong star Tony Leung as Wenwu didn’t hurt as he absolutely commands your attention as soon as you see him on screen. I’m glad the film skipped the opening credits and went straight into the origin story… chronicling Wenwu’s journey after he obtained the magical ten rings and his unquenchable thirst for power. We’re treated to some stunning fight choreography right from the start, and Mr. Leung is no stranger to martial art movies so it’s so great to see him perform those moves and the 59 year old actor is still as sprightly as ever.

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I’m especially glad that they didn’t strip him off his romantic charm as well. Having just seen In The Mood For Love recently, Mr. Leung is just as charismatic in dramas as he is in action flicks, and here we get to see him fall in love with a beautiful woman named Li (a luminous Fala Chen). A voice over narration explains that Wenwu’s conquered pretty much the entire earthly universe, but it was not enough for him he tried to conquer those outside earth and that’s when he met Li who guards the ethereal world of Ta-Lo. The fight sequences amidst a bamboo forest evokes scenes from Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers.

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For a while, it seemed love conquered all as Wenwu didn’t use the ten rings and seemingly content living a peaceful life as a family life with his wife and two kids. But all hell break loose when Li dies and Wenwu is now consumed with vengeance, which leads to Shang-Chi running away and starting a new life in San Francisco. Simu Liu has that instant likability about him that works for the role… Shaun (as he now calls himself) works as a valet attendant with his bestie Katy (Awkwafina). They make for quite a dynamic duo who constantly poke fun at each other, their rapport feels natural and effortless.

I love the small touches of Asian-American life when Shaun picks up Katy at her apartment home and her multi-generational family are having breakfast together. It’s common for Asian parents to constantly berate their kids for not applying themselves fully, and the fact that Katy has a degree from a good school and now working as a valet doesn’t exactly spell success for her parents. 

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There’s a fun mix of humor and action, starting with the first big fight scene inside a moving bus where we see Shaun’s extraordinary ability. Katy’s stunned expression as he witness his best friend tackle a bunch of bad guys is all of us… as it’s the first time we get to see Simu Liu emerges as a formidable action hero. The fight sequences are phenomenal, especially the one between Simu and Razor Fist, the leader of the Ten Rings organization started by Wenwu back in the Middle Ages. Fist is played by Florian Munteanu (who was in Creed II opposite Michael B. Jordan), an enormous guy with a fiery sword for an arm. Some of the bus driving scenes reminds me of Speed, which could be intentional given Keanu Reeves is the most famous actor of mixed Chinese descent. 

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Though he survives the fight, Shang-Chi realizes his jade pendant got stolen in the process. Realizing his father is going after the other pendant his mom had given to his sister, he decides to track her down in Macau. Another impressive action scene ensues at an underground fight club where we get to see Wong fight Abomination in the ring. It’s always fun to see Benedict Wong on screen, in and out of the MCU.

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Shang-Chi’s opponent turns out to be her own sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) who had also ran away from home and had become a force to be reckoned with, not just physically but in terms of business as well as she actually owns the club. I really appreciate the female representation in addition to the racial one as the movie is filled with strong, powerful women who forge their own path to success. “If my father won’t let me into his empire, I will build my own” You go girl! I now count Zhang as one of my favorite MCU heroines and that post-credit scene promises something more with her character. It would be so great to see a MCU spin-off with Xialing. 

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The night action scenes that follow is quite breathtaking as well .The building fight scene with lit by neon billboards reminds me a bit of the one in Skyfall, but this movie made it their own with some thrilling Kung Fu moves. This long action scene shows not just Shang-Chi’s incredible abilities but Xialing’s as well who is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

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Speaking of powerful women, you can’t go wrong with casting another Asian veteran actor Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan, Shang-Chi’s aunt. After Shang-Chi, Katy and Xialing were captured by the Ten Rings army, they learn that Wenwu is planning to go back to Ta-Lo to destroy it. Somehow he’s haunted by a voice he thought were of his wife asking him to rescue him.

The journey as they escape the Ten Rings compound is actually pretty hilarious, thanks to SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] the appearance of Trevor Slattery aka The Mandarin, the washed-up actor played by Sir Ben Kingsley. He is so funny in this movie, along with his sidekick pet Morris, a furry dog with sparkly wings, one of the mythical creatures from Ta-Lo. With Trevor/Morris’ help, they were able to reach Ta-Lo without being eaten by the bamboo forest. Once there, they’re trained by Ying Nan as they prepare to fight Wenwu.

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I have to say the third act is a bit too bombastic for my taste, which is my quibble with a lot of superhero movies out there. The final battle is a loud, CGI-fest scenario which I suppose is unavoidable when it involves a large dragon and other flying mythical creatures. Thankfully it doesn’t descend to the absurd level of Man of Steel where the last 15-20 minute or so is absolutely aggravating instead of thrilling.

It’s wise that writers Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton pepper the big action spectacle with smaller, more character-driven scenes such as giving Katy a chance to make her mark amongst those with extraordinary abilities. I love the final scenes between Shang-Chi and Wenwu, displaying a complex, emotional father-son dynamic that humanizes the fantastical narrative. I also commend Cretton that he incorporates the flashback scenes in such a way that move the story forward instead of making it feel tedious or repetitive.

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There are a lot to love and appreciate in this movie, and I really can’t say enough about the fantastic casting of Tony Leung. Can’t believe this is his first ever role in an American film and his first English-speaking role, but he brings such dignity and humanity to the role, his emotional performance made Wenwu so much more than just a one-dimensional villain. In fact, he’s more of a tragic character than an all-out evil person hellbent on destroying the world. He and Michelle Yeoh automatically add immense gravitas just by being present in this film.

I’m happy to say I’m impressed with Simu Liu as an action hero and I think he shines in the more dramatic moments as well. I was slightly worried Awkwafina might be too much in the best-friend role but she’s actually delightful to watch here. She works well together with Simu instead of outshining him with her larger-than-life personality. 

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Overall, I’m so glad I get to see Shang-Chi on the big screen in its opening weekend. It’s massively entertaining with dazzling action sequences + fight choreography, shot beautifully by Bill Pope. The fact that Stan Lee modeled Shang-Chi character after Bruce Lee, of course we expect stunning fight scenes and this movie delivered! There are plenty of outstanding scenes that will stand as one of the most memorable of the MCU, the bus fight is definitely one of them. For me, as a critic of Southeast Asian descent, it’s obviously thrilling to see the success of a movie with mostly Asian cast and an Asian director at the helm. I’m happy to say Shang-Chi is top tier MCU and glad to read the box office numbers looks good, which is a huge win for Asian representation in Hollywood. Hopefully it has longer legs the fact that it’s playing exclusively in theaters. One thing for sure, this one deserves to be seen in as big a screen as possible.

4/5 stars


Have you seen SHANG-CHI? I’d love to hear what you think!

Trailer Spotlight: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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Woo wee!! Thank you Marvel Studios for dropping this high-energy trailer on a sleepy Monday!! This is one of the most anticipated Phase Four of the MCU and if it weren’t for Covid, we should’ve seen Shang-Chi movie by now but the February release had been delayed to September 3, 2021. Poster looks good too, though I can’t help but think of the Olympics with all those rings!

Here’s the short premise per Wiki:

When Shang-Chi is drawn into the clandestine Ten Rings organization, he is forced to confront the past he thought he left behind

Well, behold its first trailer!

Well my first reaction is WHOA!!! I mean it’s a Kung-Fu movie so naturally I’m expecting some high-octane, gravity-defying moves and that’s what we got in this trailer. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) from a screenplay by David Callaham (Expendables, Mortal Kombat), the film has a mostly-Asian cast led by Simu Liu, including Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Ronny Chieng, and Michelle Yeoh. Having just seen In The Mood For Love recently, I was expecting Leung’s co-star Maggie Cheung to show up here as Shang-Chi’s mother!

Now, based on some videos of Simu Liu I’ve seen so far, he seems like the right actor for the part. The Chinese-Canadian actor seems charismatic and witty in interviews, which I think it important beyond just having the martial art skills. 

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Visually it looks impressive, which is to be expected given the Marvel budget. Some of the scenes reminds me of Inception and The Matrix

… as well as Zhang Yimou’s movies like HERO, House of Flying Daggers, etc. There’s even a scene that reminds me of the neon-lit fight scene in Skyfall. I take it the storyline will take place in multiple timelines, mixing the production design from various ancient/modern. The DP is Bill Pope who’s no stranger to fantasy/comic-book movies

 

Timeline-wise, I’m curious where Shang-Chi fits in within the MCU timeline. It’s possible that it takes place before Avengers: Endgame after the Snap?

It’s a pretty short teaser consisting mostly of action/fight sequences, but I’m hopeful there’ll be a compelling story just like most of movies in the MCU. I have to admit, not being much of a comic reader, I had to search for some videos about the character’s history. This one did a pretty good job explaining it:

One thing for sure I like the casting of Tony Leung who always looks elegant and dignified as Shang-Chi’s father aka The Mandarin/Wenwu who is the leader of the Ten Rings.

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Now, thanks to Wiki, apparently Marvel replaced the comic-book version named Fu Manchu with Wenwu, citing it as a “problematic character” associated with racist stereotypes whom Marvel Studios does not hold the film rights to. I certainly am glad they didn’t stick with Ben Kingsley as the character, that just wouldn’t be right.

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Looking at the way the character is drawn in the comics (released in 1973 by Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin), no doubt the inspiration was Bruce Lee. Per this article, Paul Gulacy, the artist for several issues of Master of Kung Fu, spoke about his desire to honor the legacy of Bruce Lee in his work in an interview for Comic Book Artist Collecti on. The link between Lee and Shang-Chi was so prominent that when plans for a live-action adaptation were in the works, Bruce’s son Brandon Lee was the original actor eyed for the role. Unfortunately, Brandon Lee died on the set of The Crow in 1993 from an on-set accident. I have faith Simu Liu in bringing Shang-Chi character to life. 


I’m certainly excited for this one and can’t wait to see it on the big screen!

How about you?

Disney Investor Day – Marvel trailers + announcements: LOKI, WandaVision, Ms Marvel, Falcon Winter Soldier

Woo wee!! I was quite busy with work yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Disney Investor Day yesterday. Or you might as well call it ‘Disney-take-all-my-money-Day’ given the drool-worthy Marvel Phase 4 trailers being released, as well as new revelations that got me jumping for joy!

If you missed it, there are a few videos posted on Youtube where Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige introduced all the slates coming in the next year or so:

Man, it’s gotta be good to be Kevin Feige… I mean, how many producers get to be involved with SO MANY films that people can’t wait to see. It’s amazing how Marvel managed to connect their feature film slate with their TV series offerings, as Feige mentioned as the ‘inter-connected-ness of all the stories’ within the universe. It just goes to show how well-managed the Marvel franchise is compared to its rival DC.

Anyhoo, if you’d rather just watch the individual trailers, here are a few I’m super excited about:

LOKI

Out of ALL the Marvel series going to Disney+, LOKI is my most anticipated because I LOVE Tom Hiddleston‘s portrayal. He actually made me love the villain more than the hero (sorry Chris Hemsworth!)

Oh I love the changing font for the LOKI logo, it’s perfect for the god of mischief!

WandaVision

When I first heard of WandaVision series, I was kind of meh about it… that is until I saw the concept, setting it in 1950s as the unlikely couple are living the ideal suburban life in the town of Westview, trying to conceal their powers. Such a freakin’ brilliant concept!! Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany look like they’re having a blast in the roles, and now I can’t wait to see this on January 15, 2021!

Falcon & the Winter Soldier

I’m really hoping this one would be good as I LOVE Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan. Captain America is my favorite Marvel trilogy and these are two extremely handsome + talented actors reprising their roles from the franchise, and this trailer looks fun and action-packed. Yet… somehow there’s something wanting, which makes me a bit worried that it won’t be as good as I expected, but hey, I hope they’d prove me wrong come March 19, 2021.


I wish there were a trailer for ShangChi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Asian-led superhero movie, starring the Chinese-Canadian Simu Liu in the title role.

I’m super excited to see an Asian director at the helm, Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy), and starring a bunch of amazing East-Asian actors: Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, and Ronny Chieng. Finally, we’ve got representation for the large Asian audience!

Speaking of representation, this is a series I haven’t heard about but am excited about!

A new series called Ms. Marvel, is apparently in the works! Newcomer Iman Vellani will star as Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel in the series, which is set to arrive on Disney+ in late 2021! The series will center on Kamala Khan — a 16-year-old Pakistani-American growing up in Jersey City. A great student, avid gamer, and voracious fan-fic scribe, Kamala has a special affinity for Super Heroes, particularly Captain Marvel. Check out the teaser below:


Exciting Announcements

Well this is old news to some, but it’s still cool to see this brilliant casting news confirmed officially! As if we needed another reason to be excited about THOR: Love and Thunder, Christian Bale will be playing the villain, Gorr The God Butcher. Woo hoo!! I guess he’s taking a note from his former co-star & fellow Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett who seemed to have the time of her life playing Thor’s sister/villainess Hela, The Goddess of Death.

This video shows all the announcements for some highly-anticipated shows! I remember a month ago or so, while I was watching PERRY MASON which also stars Tatiana Maslany, there were talks that she’s going to play She Hulk, which she denied. But looks like it IS official that she will portray the character! Interesting to see Tim Roth will reprise his role in The Incredible Hulk as Abomination.

 

I wish they’d released at least a teaser for ETERNALS, which is what Feige said as ‘unexplored territories of the Marvel universe.’ The cast looks amazing!! But I’m equally excited for the director at the helm, Chloé Zhao.

Chloe Zhao w/ the ETERNALS cast at Comic Con 2019

Per IO9, it’s her Manga vision is partly what got her the director’s job. Per the IO9 article, Zhao is quoted as saying “I have such deep, strong, manga roots… I brought some of that into Eternals. And I look forward to pushing more of that marriage of East and West.” That marriage, Zhao thinks, could put Eternals on par—at least thematically—with the last big Marvel movie. “How much further and bigger can we go after Endgame? Because I’m not just making the film as a director. I’m making the film as a fan.”

Whoa!! Now I’m even more excited to see ETERNALS!! But man, such a long wait for this one as it won’t be released until Nov 5, 2021.


Now, not every single announcement got me excited however, this one actually made me LOL-ed and cringe at the same time… ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ Holiday Special.

Wait, what?? Apparently James Gunn will also direct this Live-Action Holiday Special in 2022 Before Vol. 3 Arrives in 2023, and he obviously is excited about it. O-kaaay 😀


Well, that’s the scoop about Marvel Phase 5. Which series are you most excited to see?